I watched a bit of The Apprentice on the BBC last night, the show featuring UK tycoon Sir Alan Sugar, who among other things owns a large stake in Tottenham Hotspur FC. The programme, like the American version, is engrossing and it nicely builds up the tension as Sugar confronts his teams of wanna-be businessfolk with their performance and fires one of them.
I have mixed views overall about the show. As pure entertainment, it succeeds in drawing the viewer in, although I am not sure in fact how well it really explains the qualities needed to be a good entrepreneur. The message seems to be that business is a dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game in which if some people win, others must lose. Which is wrong since everyone benefits from trade, otherwise why else trade in the first place? If a person who is smarter than me gets a job I covet, then the overall economic pie gets bigger than it otherwise would, so we all benefit, even though I might feel disappointed.
The Apprentice also seems to celebrate aggression to a considerable degree, and yet businessmen and women in my experience come a cropper if they stop listening to what their customers want and refuse to learn from experience. A degree of humility is actually smart. A quality I do not see much of in the show is that of sheer courage in taking business risks, something that is not sufficiently appreciated except by writers such as George Gilder.
I wonder whether Sugar (what an ill-suited surname he has!) is really a great advocate of business, at least as far as this show goes. Yes, I can admire how he rose from nothing in London’s East End to become one of Britain’s richest men (he has a net personal worth of 800 million pounds, according to the TV commenter), but he comes across as a bit of a braggart, the sort of bore one might encounter in a pub bragging to his mates about how ‘ard he is and how ruthless he can be. Yawn. I suspect that many of the greatest businessmen, while undoubtedly workaholics, ruthless and driven people, have to be able to rub along with other people. Maybe in Britain’s anti-business culture someone like Sugar stands out and he feels the need to put himself about.
Or perhaps Sugar is just hamming it up for the cameras and is a delightful fellow. You can never tell with these sort of ‘Reality TV’ shows. I would certainly watch some of the other shows in the series.